Some senators, AFP hail Duterte’s signing of Anti-Terrorism Law, but critics fear for human rights

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 3) — Some senators and the Armed Forces of the Philippines commended President Rodrigo Duterte for signing the Anti-Terrorism Law on Friday, but critics vow to question its legality and emphasize the measure violates basic human rights.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the new law will surely protect the people against “ruthless ideologies and stop unrepentant agitators from sowing mayhem and disorder.”

“This new law against terrorism is the answer. The government's hands are no longer tied. We now stand at par with many countries in the region in capacity- building measures against terrorists,” said Sotto.

Sen. Francis Tolentino emphasized the signing of Anti-Terrorism Act is very timely and historic and is really needed by the country now.

“It just goes to show that a stable peace and order climate should go hand with economic rejuvenation post COVID-19. We should all support this measure,” Tolentino said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines stressed the new measure will boost the government’s security forces against those who cause “inordinate sufferings” to the Filipino people.

“We now have a powerful statute that provides law enforcement agencies the legal wherewithal to protect and defend our people,” said Armed Forces Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgar Arevalo in a statement.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, one of the vocal supporters of the controversial measure, highlighted the President exercised his strong political will in signing the law despite many objections from societal groups.

“With all the pressure coming from different directions against the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law, at the end of the day, it is his strong political will that mattered most. I cannot imagine this measure being signed under another administration,” explained Lacson.

But some of Lacson’s colleagues in the Senate, who are also members of the opposition, were not pleased with the President’s signature unto the Anti-Terrorism Law.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros lamented the government’s priority in signing the measure amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the country’s COVID-19 cases have gone past 40,000 and while 7.3 million Filipinos have lost their jobs and livelihood, Malacanang has instead signed the Anti-Terrorism Law that it will use to trample on Filipinos’ basic rights and freedoms,” said Hontiveros.

Hontiveros added the law’s vague and unconstitutional provisions “will provide the government with fearsome legal tools to oppress and silence those who speak out and resist the injustices, the violence and the corruption of those in power.”

Fellow opposition member Sen. Francis Pangilinan said while he was not surprised the Duterte administration signed such “draconian and authoritarian” measure, the Anti-Terrorism Law does not solve the poverty and problems of the health crisis in the country.

Members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives also denounced Duterte’s signing of the controversial law.

“Not only did he sign the terror bill into law, Duterte just signed a death warrant to the human rights of every man, woman, and child in the Philippines,” said House Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro.

"We call on all freedom loving Filipinos to be very vigilant because darker days are ahead. We must remain united and report any and all violations of human rights. An attack on one is an attack on everyone. We will show them that in the face of repression an awakened people will resist and fight back," stated House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate.

Media rights group Altermidya raised concern that the controversial Anti-Terrorism Law can be used to suppress those who report issues against the Duterte administration.

“Under this patently unconstitutional law, critical reporting of issues can and will surely be tagged as terrorist acts. The very irony lies in its name – it is not against terrorism, but rather, aids and abets in the commission of state terror. It is anti-human rights, anti-press freedom, anti-free expression, and anti-civil liberties,” the organization pointed out.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon, Ateneo de Manila University School of Government Dean Ronald Mendoza said the new law effectively repealed the Human Security Act of 2007 by expanding the government forces’ powers on surveillance.

But Mendoza underlined the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is a good measure to combat terrorism in the country if the government’s institutions are trustworthy and accountable on using their power to rightfully solve terrorist threats in the society.

“I think the debate right now is that many people are concerned that the very institutions that will be tasked to implement the law are also those with right now a little bit of a history of human rights abuses, governance failures, links to extra-judicial killings and so on and so forth,” said Mendoza.